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We’ve had a couple of birthdays over the past few days: my youngest, Littlest Dubya, tuned one on Saturday and my oldest, Li’l Dubs, four on Tuesday. That means we have balloons lying around in various states of inflation and flotation. Some of the latex balloons have outright given up and lie on the floor, shriveling, streamers curled up around them; others continue to fight the good fight and hover five or six feet above the ground in defiance of gravity – thumbing their noses at Newton and Blood, Sweat and Tears. The mylar balloons, with their virtually non-porous skins, will float around indefinitely, mockingly: “Ha, you can’t get rid of me…the kids can still see me…floating around…la, la, la, la. And you know they’ll ask about me if you pop me…Hey, get away from me with those scissors…I’m Elmo, dammit!”

No, this isn’t a post about talking balloons or the voices in my head. Last night the wife and I picked up some balloons off the floor and began using them as punch balls, and although the ones we used as kids were far more resilient and bigger and, well, cooler than these withering balloons, our kids wanted to try this new game. And, as often happens when I begin to wax nostalgic for toys of yesteryear, I found myself saying, “remember such and such?” Well, here’s some of the “such and such” that was mentioned and remebered fondly.

Paddle balls: Simple concept, right? Rubber ball attached to wooden paddle by thin elastic band. Hit ball with paddle. Repeat. So simple, but how often did you get several paddles in a row only to hit the ball at a slightly different angle and ruin a good run of “whacka-whacka-whacka-whacka?” Or, when you had a particularly good run going and that flimsy staple gave way, the ball flew off and took out your mom’s vase? You re-staple it for the fortieth time and its original use is ultimately forgotten when it becomes…a weapon, used to torment younger brothers. That didn’t happen in your house?

Maybe a little sister? No? Um..moving on then.

Romper Stompers: Again, another simple concept. Two plastic cups with gimp straps. Clip-clop your way thorugh the house – hours of noisy fun. Originally intorduced on the ultimate children’s program, Romper Room, the cups allowed kids to stand an additonal six inches above the ground. They were at their loudest on linoleum or concrete. They did take a little bit of coordination, especially if you tried running on them (not recommended, by the way – see this scar?). And those lacking balance often found themselves going ass over teakettle. Good times.

Hippity Hippity-Hop: We had two: one red with a loop handle, the other blue with a horse’s head and handles similar to a rocking horse. These large rubber balls provided hours of enjoyment bouncing around the yard or cruising through the house. And, as boys will be boys, we would use them in ways I believe were expressly forbidden by the government or, at the very least, our parents. Get set on the couch, jump off and see how high you could bounce. Great in theory and certainly high in a “cool!” factor but ultimately not great in practice. Face plants were a common outcome of this misguided attempt at “air.” As we got older, the hiipity-hops became the ultimate dodge ball balls – not all that accurate and awkward to throw but could knock an opponent on his ass with a direct hit especially when using the handle for torque. Hmmm, another toy with harmless beginnings that was ultimatTracely used as a weapon. I’m sensing a trend here.

Trac-Ball: The final “toy as a weapon.” Based on jai-alai, Trac-Ball was introduced to kids everywhere by Wham-O and, with a little practice, was a lot more fun than a simple game of catch. It came with two rackets similar to jai-alai’s cesta basket, a hard plastic ball and one styrofoam. It was a fairly easy process to throw and catch – what took more skill was adding speed to the mix. Ultimately, though, skill devolves into target practice – the target being the other player or group of dodge ball players brave stupid enough to think they could catch a hard plastic ball hurtling at break-neck speeds directly for their nether regions or heads. I’m pretty sure that most of our games ended due to excessive tears and welts. Of course, I don’t think Wham-O ever intended Trac-Ball to be used in this fashion, but then again, I don’t think whoever invented the bean bag ever thought of them as weapons either.

Yikes, after writing this it appears that we were a bunch of sadistic little kids looking to inflict pain on our playmates. It’s a wonder I look back fondly at childhood at all.